Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress 2007 Conference
Inspiration and care is what was found at the 2007 Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress Conference. Driving two hours through treacherous ice, snow, and slush brought me to downtown Worcester this past Saturday and to the conference location at the DCU Center. Originally, I was motivated to attend the conference because I have been following the literacy work of David Koppenhaver and Stephanie Spadorcia. Yet, immediately after arriving, I thought to myself that I was in for a special day. That prediction came very much true.
Something was very special about this conference. I have been attending many conferences lately including Closing the Gap and ATIA the past two years and love the community created there. Yet, there was something about this small gathering that was definitively different. Truly there is an excellent sense of community on the listserv groups I participate in and in the group of people that surrounds the work of special education and assisitive technology. It is excellent to be a part of it. Yet, this group, which has a mission of being the best resource on Down Syndrome in Massachusetts has a feel that is something that I know from another place.
I felt it as I began speaking with people. First it was a woman who is designing a program to educate doctors about what it is like for families with children who have special needs. Then it was with another woman who has created an on-line social networking system for children who struggle socially. Then I started meeting children and their families. Although I knew about the MDSC and that it mainly was run by and serves families, I did not know how that aspect would permeate the experience so thoroughly. As I walked around it felt in a way like I was back at the Michael Carter Lisnow Respite Center. What I was experiencing was the simple feeling of people who care and people who have shared similar experiences. At the Respite Center, I may not have had a child of my own with special needs, but I surely spent a great deal of time with children and adults I cared so much for. At the Respite it feels like we are all family. That feeling of care and support is truly special.
Then as I listen to Stephanie Spadorcia speak, I hear her connecting with the families. They are responding so well and their questions build and are so right on with the presentation that it almost seems planned. Then I move onto David Koppenhaver’s workshop. I definitively get the sense from him that he cares about these learners and wants to see them get the literacy skills that will benefit them. Although I have read his work and know first hand the messages that he and his colleagues are spreading, I am completely inspired by hearing the way he states these things. Then I see him coaching and collaborating with a first year doctoral student, Amy Williams, who seems like she is very excited about her work and is very smart. What a good example for me to see. It seemed like everything I experienced was so infused with people who are committed and who care in a major way. So as I walk away from this experience, I realize more fully where I am meant to be: in a place where people care and are working together. That means doing your best, but in the end it is the overall experience of a place like the Respite Center that is what is so long lasting and helpful to the families and people who are a part of it.
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